Thursday, April 07, 2011

The Great SS Experiment

A couple of years ago, curious about all the passion some people exhibit for singlespeeds, I bought a conversion kit and turned my old commuter into a model of simplicity.

My old Stumpjumper was a great mountain bike its day, but after years on singletrack it had slowly evolved into a stripped-down, fully rigid and fender-equipped town bike, so taking it singlespeed seemed like the next step. Every few months, I still conduct a mental inventory of the pros and cons of having only one gear. For quite a while, I kept thinking that as time passed, singlespeeding might grow on me.

Sorry, derailleur haters, but that hasn’t happened. I even tried taking my SS for a trail ride once. And once was enough.

There is only one advantage to going shifter-free: I get to mostly ignore bike maintenance in the sloppy, wet weather of autumn and spring. Other than some occasional chain lube, I don’t do much of anything to my bike.

But here’s the rub: I wasn’t spending much time on maintenance when my commuter bike had derailleurs. All I had to do was occasionally wipe off some gunk, lube the chain and squirt a drop or two of TriFlow in a few key spots. Maybe install some new cables and housing every couple of years.

For a little extra effort, derailleurs allow me to gear down and pedal through three inches of wet, spring snow without abusing my knees at the end of a long day. They allow me to move a little faster when I’m running late. They help me glide up hills when I’m hauling cargo like a lock, cans of Diet Coke and/or a container of lasagna that I plan to eat for lunch.

Singlespeeders love to brag about spending less time on maintenance, but I’d be willing to bet that, over the course of a year, derailleurs save far more time than they cost. Hell, now I have to disassemble the Surly Singleator and reverse its spring tension if I switch from a 16-tooth summer cog to an 18-tooth winter one, not to mention changing chain length every time I mess with the gearing. I never had to do those things with a derailleur.

The old Stumpjumper will remain a singlespeed for now, because my commute is short and fairly flat, leaving me little motivation to blow a few bucks on a new drivetrain. But if I suddenly found myself facing a longer ride to work, one of the first things I’d do is re-install a full range of gears.

Singlespeeding is still silly.


Rob Thomson said...

For someone who only owns one bike, and that bike being pretty much their sole mode of transport, perhaps that person could justify the extra cost of investing in the best of both worlds: internal gears. Forget about the extra maintenance of a derailleur system, and enjoy the benefits of need not go for a massively expensive Rohloff, but a Shimano Nexus-8 seems like an interesting and worthwhile option.

I've not yet made the switch to internal gears, but I dare say I am very close to it! It seems all very attractive on paper...

Tim said...

Excellent point, Rob. I've never used a modern internal hub (I'm old enough to have used them as a kid) but I might have to give it a try next time I build a commuter bike.

Debbie said...

I'm still toying with the idea of trying one so that my quads will get so huge I won't be able to fit in pants and can just wear the tampon costume full time.

lemmiwinks said...

I've got a Nexus 8 speed equipped bike and they're a nice hub. I opted for the roller brake, but a nice Alfine with disk brake would probably be even better.

Mine's a tiny bit undergeared (something like 34/19 but the hub gives it a massive spread) as the intention was that I should commute without getting out of the saddle. It's now the dedicated kiddie hauler so it actually worked out well.